SF weighs new policies, plans for RV dwellers

There are roughly 430 vehicles being used for sleeping in San Francisco right now, most of them parked in the Bayview, Mission and Taraval police districts.

That’s according to the first such count of vehicle dwellers conducted in San Francisco, released by city officials last week.

The count was released as the city prepares to debate a policy that could see recreational vehicles and campervans banned on many city streets, or provide solace for those who call RVs home.

Of the 432 vehicles counted with people sleeping in them by The City between October 22 and October 30, 313 were recreational vehicles, or RVs, and 119 were passenger vehicles like sedans. Many living in these vehicles were homeless, while some might be workers looking to shorten their commutes.

The count was conducted by the Healthy Streets Operations Center, a joint effort between the San Francisco Police Department, San Francisco Public Works, Homeless Outreach Team and Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

The data was shared with the San Francisco Examiner by the department of homelessness director Jeff Kositsky, Friday.

“We want to go out and see who’s out there, what the needs are,” Kositsky said, “and once we have that information to develop a clear plan on how to best address the program.”

The new data will play a part in several major city efforts to somehow provide both help to those living in the RVs and relief for neighbors who consider them a nuisance.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors will consider policy guidelines for oversize vehicle overnight parking restrictions at its regular meeting Tuesday. The policy would give the board clear guidelines to approve or deny RV parking bans when they are requested by neighbors.

“It gives the board a framework,” said SFMTA board chair Cheryl Brinkman. Before, those decisions were made on a one-by-one basis. Now, she said, the agency wants to think of “the bigger picture.”

SEE RELATED: Supervisor moves to ban RV dwellers on Ingleside street

The proposed policy set to be considered by the board would allow oversize vehicle restrictions near schoolyards, playgrounds and community parks, to ensure children are not exposed to “public health risks” or public safety risks from encampments, and on residential streets with “limited” on-street parking, or on streets with vehicles subject to dumping or “blight.”

Meanwhile, The City is looking at other ways to handle oversized vehicles sheltering the homeless.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen told the Examiner that on November 13 she plans to introduce legislation requiring the Department of Homelessness to create a central parking area for oversize vehicles within six months, complete with bathrooms and city services to help people become housed.

Ronen said the legislation was prompted by Portola neighbors who, for “very good reasons,” were fed up with trash and other hazards generated by homeless RV dwellers, but also by her desire to see people lifted out of homelessness.

Previously, Supervisor Ahsha Safai and others have sought RV bans on specific streets in the neighborhoods they represent. After receiving pushback, Safai later pledged to develop a citywide policy to address the issue.

“The reason they’re all in the Portola is because other supervisors banned them from their streets,” Ronen said. “What I’ve been frustrated by is the approach that pushes people from one neighborhood to the next. It doesn’t work.”

She added, “It’s also completely inhumane.”

Ronen’s legislation drew split reactions from those leading other efforts in The City.

Brinkman, the SFMTA board chair, said a citywide effort to find parking space for RV dwellers may influence her board’s discussion on banning RVs. The SFMTA board is also set to vote Tuesday on an RV ban at De Wolf Street, nestled just under U.S. Interstate 280 behind Alemany Boulevard, in a neighborhood Safai represents.

“I think that discussion will arise at the board meeting,” she said of Ronen’s plan. “Do we want to put any more bans in place before we have a solution? Or do we trust a solution will be forthcoming?”

Kositsky, on the other hand, said he did not disagree with Ronen’s plan on its merits, but believes the Department of Homelessness needs to conduct more research first.

“Almost every community that has attempted to address this problem has failed,” he said. His department “is determined not to jump on the failure bandwagon by rushing into unproven programs.”

The department recently launched a vehicle encampment resolution team to address the RVs, an offshoot of the team that addressed tent encampments. A pilot program on Crisp Street in the Bayview helped reach out to people sleeping in their vehicles, and the department also developed outreach materials detailing RV parks nearby San Francisco to help redirect people to where they can sleep legally.

The homeless department is also piloting a program to offer vehicle repair to people in RVs who are stuck but wish to leave San Francisco.

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